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August 29, 2015 / 14 Elul, 5775
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Atonement: Getting It Right


“What have you done?” asked the tzaddik of the young man. “Is your sin one between you and your friend or between you and the Almighty?”

The chassid said he had sinned against his Maker.

“If that is so,” replied the Chozeh, “do not despair and do not cry. Hashem does not like us to be sad; you will achieve much more with simcha than with tears.”

The tzaddik asked again, “Are you certain you have sinned?”

In a tear-choked voice, the chassid replied in the affirmative and asked to be taught the art of repentance so that he could do proper teshuvah and be forgiven.

“Go home and don’t worry,” advised the tzaddik. “The mere awareness of your sin has freed you from it. The stamp of Hashem is Emes. If only I would be on the level where you find yourself.

“The rasha who knows he is evil is favored above the tzaddik who feels himself to be sin-free. The rasha, in admitting his wrongdoing, does not lie, while the supposed tzaddik is lacking the attribute of emes.

“There is no tzaddik who has not sinned. Those who believe themselves to be sin-free fail to repent even as they stand at the door to gehenom, convinced they’d been chosen to rescue the suffering souls there; the thought that they may have sinned and are being escorted to receive retribution for their transgressions does not enter their minds.”

* * * * *

During the Yamim Noraim Reb Nachman, the Breslover Tzaddik, had a dream. (He was aware that since we are bereft of the Beis HaMikdash, a tzaddik’s life is sacrificed for the sins of Klal Yisrael each year at such time.)

In his dream it was Yom Kippur and the heavens were casting about for a tzaddik to volunteer to forfeit his life for such cause.

The Breslover Rebbe undertook to be moser nefesh and make himself available. But soon thereafter he regretted his decision, yet had no way of concealing himself to forestall fulfilling his commitment.

In his dream he left the city. Though he walked and walked, he would find himself back where he had started out. He contemplated hiding among non-Jews but feared they would give him away when his brethren would come looking for him.

In the meantime, another righteous soul consented to be the korban in place of the Breslover Tzaddik, but still Reb Nachman feared his time to be imminent. His replacement turned out to be none other than the holy Berditchiver Rebbe, who passed away that Sukkos. (Reb Nachman’s fear was realized the following year, when he too ascended to the upper world – also on Sukkos.)

At the time, Reb Nachman remarked that even the ordinary person is conscious of the enormity of a tzaddik’s loss. Some simply feel that things aren’t quite right, while others perceive something to be missing from the world. The gloom manifests itself in different ways. One man believes he is despondent due to his struggle with parnassah, another blames his sadness on the aches in his bones, and so on. But in reality we are suffering the deprivation of a holy soul who has been taken from among us. A light has been extinguished and has caused the world to become a darker place.

* * * * *

We desperately await the clarion call – the blast of the shofarthat will signify an end to all tragedy. This year, Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos, a phenomenon that occurs less than a third of the time and which offers us an amazing vantage point.

On Shabbos the Midas ha’Din converts to the Midas ha’Rachamim. Furthermore, it is written that whoever heeds the commandment of keeping the Shabbos holy is forgiven for all his sins. As the verdict of penance for our errant ways is about to be sealed, how better to temper our Father’s vexation with us than by honoring the Shabbos, the precious gift He conferred on us as a means to elevate our souls and to unify with Him?

In Gemara Shabbos it says, “Were Israel to observe just two Sabbaths, they would immediately be redeemed.” Both Shabbos and Yom Kippur are referred to in the Torah as a Sabbath of Sabbaths (Shabbosin Shemos 35:1-2;Yom Kippurin Vayikra 16:29-31).

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